A man who scrawled racial slurs against Asians on a New Smyrna Beach family’s vehicles and placed nails in their driveway was sentenced to nearly a year in the county jail followed by house arrest and probation.
A jury convicted Kyle Christiansen, 34, of Daytona Beach, on June 8 of two counts of criminal mischief with hate crime enhancements. The charges and enhancements made each charge a second-degree felony, which are punishable by up to 15 years in prison each.
“It’s like an act of terror is what it is,” Circuit Judge Dennis Craig told Christiansen during sentencing. “You have effectively terrorized a family is what you did. Probably without even taking that into consideration, you just needed to act out on your hatred and on your prejudice.”
But Christiansen had no prior criminal record, so he did not score high enough on state sentencing guidelines to allow the judge to send him to prison during Tuesday’s hearing at the S. James Foxman Justice Center.
Christiansen, who also had mental health issues according to court records, scored a 10 on the sentencing guidelines. A score of 22 allows a judge to sentence someone to prison and a score of 44 requires a prison sentence.
Original arrest: Hate crime charged in vandalism of dentist’s vehicle in New Smyrna Beach
Christiansen convicted: Sentence could have been up to 30 years
Besides sentencing Christiansen to 364 days in jail, Craig also said the jail term would be followed by three years of community control, which is basically house arrest. Craig said the house arrest would be followed by seven years probation. Christiansen received credit for 38 days time served in the Volusia County Branch Jail.
“I viewed the facts of this case as a prison case and not necessarily a short prison case,” Craig told Christiansen.
Craig added that he did not believe Christiansen’s mental health played a role in the hate crimes.
“I think it’s evident from the facts it’s the prejudice why you took these actions, not the mental health issue,” Craig said. “As far as the mental health issue goes, I don’t have anything to indicate that the mental health issues that you have would be the cause of such hate and acting out on such hate on people that you don’t even know.”
The judge also ordered Christiansen to have no contact with the victims, and to stay away from their workplace. He ordered Christiansen to undergo a mental health evaluation and barred him from use of the internet except for online classes approved by his probation officer.
Christiansen was also ordered to pay $5,000 in restitution to the victims for damages to the vehicle and half-day of lost work.
Hate crimes against Asian-Americans on the rise since COVID
Since COVID-19 started spreading across the United States and the country began to lock down in March 2020, Asian-Americans have been reporting a significant increase in hate crimes, harassment and discrimination.
From March 19, 2020, to March 31, 2021, Stop AAPI Hate received reports of 6,603 incidents of hate crimes, according to a national report from the organization which fights hate against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Verbal harassment made up 65.2% of the incidents and shunning (deliberate avoidance) made up 18.1% of incidents reported, according to the group. Physical assault was the third largest at 12.6%, according to Stop AAPI Hate.
In March, a man gunned down eight people, including six Asian women, at spas in and near Atlanta.
The hate crime case in New Smyrna Beach did not involve physical violence against people but it involved psychological violence of threats and the terror left by the hateful vandalism.
The judge said he took Christiansen’s threatening language seriously, but it went beyond that.
“It was more than words,” Craig said. “You already have taken a step beyond the hateful language, threats and words that you used.”
The News-Journal is not reporting the names of the victims because the case involved a hate crime.
The original case
The racist Asian slurs were painted in orange on July 29, 2020, on the side of a black pickup truck belonging to a male family member at the home in Venetian Bay, according to a police report. An Asian slur was also painted on the man’s sister-in-law’s gray Honda sedan parked outside the house.
Nails were also placed on the driveway.
The male victim’s wife told police that on July 24, 2020, she received a Facebook message from an account with the name “Pine Cone” which had a profile picture of a squirrel. The Facebook message contained Asian slurs targeting her and her husband, and said that they needed to die by rat poison, the charging affidavit states.
She said in a deposition that the Facebook messages used slurs and referred to people of Vietnamese descent.
The victim’s wife said that Christiansen was a patient of hers at her dental practice, the affidavit said. Her husband is also a dentist. The woman said Christiansen had been in to her office to have his teeth cleaned the day before she received the Facebook message from Pine Cone, the charging affidavit states.
In her deposition, the woman said that Christiansen was a new patient and perhaps was surprised she was Asian. She said that perhaps based on her last name, which isn’t Asian, Christiansen may have been expecting a white doctor.
The “Pine Cone” Facebook user also sent messages to the Bureau of Immigration in the Philippines in May and September 2020 warning that he was planning to stab the first Filipino he saw in his town because of the way his brother was treated on a visit to the Philippines, according to the affidavit.
Assistant State Attorney Sarah Thomas asked the victims during the sentencing on Tuesday to recount what happened after discovering the slurs and the Facebook post.
The female victim found out at her office when her husband called her “frantically.” She said he was “really shaken up.”
‘We shouldn’t have to live with that’
She said the threats and slurs prompted her office to go through emergency drills in case the person came to do them harm.
“We shouldn’t have to live with that,” she said. “We were in fear of our lives. We should just be treating our patients. But we had to make sure that the door was locked and each patient that came to the door had to be confirmed that it was a patient that was scheduled for an appointment.”
She added: “It just made us terrified and at that time I was six months, almost seven months, pregnant. It made me more helpless.”
She said that even though Christiansen is incarcerated they still worry since he will eventually be released.
Her husband testified that they lived in fear until Christiansen’s trial. After the incident, he installed security cameras around the house.
“I thought the worst; that someone was trying to kill us,” he testified. “It really worried me for my family’s safety.”
And he said they still worry.
“What happens when he is out?” he said. “What’s going to stop him from going further? That is my biggest fear.”
Christiansen’s defense attorney, Assistant Public Defender Brian Hyer, had asked the judge to sentence him to probation.
Christiansen’s father had sent a letter to the judge from a psychologist, Shawn T. Prichard, who had treated Christiansen from 2006-2010 and followed up with him since them. The psychologist wrote that Christiansen had been under psychiatric treatment since age 5 for various disorders, including psychotic disorder. He wrote that over the course of treatment Christiansen had been prescribed at least 32 different medicines but, according to his parents, none had helped.
The psychologist said he was told by Christiansen’s parents that he was currently refusing to take any.
Hyer asked Christiansen if he was sorry.
“Yes,” Christiansen replied.
Hyer asked him if he thought his mental health issues contributed to him being unable to sometimes act appropriately.
“I don’t know,” he said.
Hyer asked him about any future treatment.
“If I had to be on medicine, I would have to deal with that but I feel I’m fine without medicine,” Christiansen said. “I just want to move on.”
When the attorney brought up being jailed, Christiansen said it was a “frightening experience” and responded that he “definitely” did not want to see the inside of a jail again.
Christiansen said he wanted to return to school to continue working on his bachelor’s degree and go back to his job delivering health food.
Turning toward the judge, Christiansen said: “I swear. I promise. I will never do anything like that ever again. I promise.”